VIDEO: Chuck Benson Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Seventh-seeded Carson-Newman (18-13) opens up its second straight NCAA tournament appearance with a matchup Saturday at 2:30 p.m. against second-seeded and 23rd-ranked Montevallo (24-8) in Harrogate, Tenn. at Lincoln Memorial's Tex Turner Arena.
Carson-Newman's back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances are the first ever for the program. The Eagles were defeated in the opening round of last year's NCAA tournament as the seven seed against Lincoln Memorial 76-65.
"The lessons we learned last year have definitely impacted us this year," head coach Chuck Benson said. "The experience last year was new, and you get caught up in the emotion of it all. This year, I feel we're a lot more poised and we go into it with a greater sense of purpose and confidence."
C-N is in the tourney by virtue of its 63-48 defense shellacking of LMU in the SAC title game. The Eagles enter the tournament on a four-game win streak and winners of 11 of their last 14 following back-to-back losses to Tusculum and Coker in mid-January.
Over the last five games, C-N has seen reigning TSWA State Player of the Week and SAC tournament MVP Charles Clark (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) rise to new heights. The freshman is averaging 19.8 points per game over that stretch with 4.8 boards. He's connecting on 52 percent of his shots and 38 percent of his threes during that time.
Carson Brooks (Knoxville, Tenn.) has also rounded into form with 14.4 points per game and 8.6 rebounds per contest over the stretch.
"It's sort of bizarre because we lost such good personnel last year," Benson said. "But this year's team has created, at least from a synergy stand point, something new that has them truly, in my mind, farther along than we were last year. That gives our guys the ability to compete and to win."
The Eagles have made four trips to the big dance, making it to the Sweet 16 in 2002. Three of the Eagles four postseason trips were earned by virtue of autobids and conference tournament titles. C-N is 1-3 all-time in NCAA tournament games. The Eagles are 33-17 in postseason play dating back to Carson-Newman's prolific NAIA tournament days.
Montevallo has won eight straight games coming into the NCAA tournament. The Falcons' most recent win came in the unlikeliest of fashions. UM trailed Columbus State in the Peach Belt title game by 25 earlier in the second half before rallying to force overtime. The Falcons outscored the Cougars 12-8 in OT to bring home the Peach Belt tournament title 80-76.
The Falcons are no stranger to the big dance; they own a 20-9 all-time record in the tournament and have advanced to the Sweet 16 on seven different occasions. All of UM's NCAA Tournament appearances have come under the 2014-15 Peach Belt Conference Coach of the Year, Danny Young.
Montevallo owns three region tournament championships in the NCAA Division II men's basketball tournament. The Falcons captured back-to-back South Region championships during the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 seasons and took home the Southeast Region title during the 2011-2012 season, which resulted in an eventual appearance in the title game.
Montevallo is helmed by the steady hand of Troran Brown - the two-time Peach Belt Conference Player of the Year and 2015 Daktronics Southeast Region Player of the Year. He averages 19.6 points and 6.4 assists per game. Brown ranks 12th in the country in assists per game and is 33rd in scoring. The senior has scored 20 points or more in 16 games this season and has dished out 10 or more assists on six occasions.
"He's just outstanding," Benson said. "Versatility is the word I would use to describe him. He can score from all three levels, and he can score from NBA range. We'll have to limit the variety of ways he can score. He's similar to LMU's Lorenza Ross, but he has more range. He can jump up over you and make shots."
Brown helped the Falcons shoot an astounding 78.4 percent from the field – the best single-game field goal percentage in Division II this season – in a 75-55 win over Tuskeegee. The Falcons were 24-for-27 from the field inside the three-point arc in that game. That clip came within the Division II record held by Youngstown State of 81.4 percent set in 1980 against Northern Iowa.
Larry Slaughter is the Falcons other weapon. He's fourth in the country with 3.78 offensive rebounds per game. Slaughter has registered 11 double-doubles this season, good for 27th in the country. He tallies 12.6 points per game as one of four Falcons who averages double digits.
"We can rebound the ball, and we've shown that against one of the best rebounding teams in the country in Lincoln Memorial," Benson said. "You've got to put a body on Slaughter early because he's so long and explosive. We have to limit his second chance opportunities."
Whoever wins between Carson-Newman and Montevallo will take on either sixth-seeded Columbus State or third-seeded UNC Pembroke. Those teams square off in the first game of the day at noon.
Top-seeded Lincoln Memorial faces eight seed North Greenville at 5. Fourth-seeded Mount Olive and fifth-seeded GRU Augusta tangle in the nightcap at 7:30.
Coverage of Carson-Newman's NCAA tournament contest will be available on the Eagle Sports Network 15 minutes prior to the 2:30 p.m. tipoff with the Appalachian Electric Cooperative Countdown to Tipoff on Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live